Supreme Court

Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is one of the most active and effective public interest legal organizations in filings before the Supreme Court of the United States. PLF has had an unprecedented nine wins in its last eleven direct appearances before the High Court for its clients—a record of success unmatched by any other public interest legal organization.

Landmark Supreme Court Victories

Hawkes Co., et al. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2016)
The groundbreaking decision accepted PLF’s arguments that landowners have a right to seek judicial review when their property is designated as wetlands subject to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The Supreme Court ruled that wetlands ‘jurisdictional determinations’ can be immediately challenged in court. Everyone who values property rights and access to justice should welcome this historic victory.

Kent Recycling Services, LLC v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2016)
This decision re-affirmed that property owners across the country can hold overzealous federal bureaucrats immediately accountable in court for erroneous assertions of control over wetlands. This levels the playing field for landowners who have been at the mercy of an overreaching federal government for far too long. This leveling of the playing field for landowners now applies across the nation—not just for Hawkes Company, not just for Kent Recycling Services, but rather for all Americans.

Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District (2013)
The U.S. Supreme Court handed a victory to all property owners by ruling in favor of Coy Koontz Jr., represented by PLF attorneys, in his constitutional challenge to the heavy, unjustified demands that his family faced as a condition for a building permit. The 5-4 ruling affirms that the Fifth Amendment protects landowners from government extortion, whether the extortion is for money or any other form of property.

Sackett v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2012)
In a unanimous decision, the Court held that property owners have a right to direct, meaningful judicial review if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency effectively seizes control of their property by declaring it to be “wetlands.” The Court ruled in favor of Mike and Chantell Sackett, of Priest Lake, Idaho, who were told by EPA — and by the Ninth Circuit — that they could not get direct court review of EPA’s claim that their two-thirds of an acre parcel is “wetlands” and that they must obey a detailed and intrusive EPA “compliance” order, or be hit with fines of up to $75,000 per day.

Rapanos v. United States (2006)
This decision narrowed the scope of federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction, so that landowners who are not close to “navigable waters” may not be subjected to federal micromanaging of their property.

Palazzolo v. Rhode Island (2001)
This ruling held that government is not relieved from its Fifth Amendment obligation to provide compensation for excessive regulations on private property merely because the property has changed hands since the regulations first took effect. PLF attorneys defended landowner Anthony Palazzolo who challenged the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council.

Suitum v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (1997)
This ruling stopped regulators from demanding that an elderly, wheelchair-bound widow must sell government issued transferable development rights in a nonexistent market before being able to seek compensation for denial of her right to build a home.

Keller v. State Bar of California (1990)
A First Amendment case holding that a trade or professional organization to which professionals are legally bound to belong may not use their mandatory dues to fund ideologically based lobbying.

Nollan v. California Coastal Commission (1987)
The Supreme Court struck down a requirement that Marilyn and Patrick Nollan give away one-third of their beachfront lot in exchange for a permit to replace an old dilapidated one-story home with a new two-story home, in keeping with the neighborhood.  The Court called the scheme an “out-and-out plan of extortion.”  From this date forward all permit conditions imposed on land development must be related to actual harms caused by the development.

Adverse ruling for Wisconsin Family

Murr v. Wisconsin (2016)
This unfortunate ruling allows Wisconsin to combine the Murrs’ two legally separate and distinct parcels into one parcel for purposes of the Takings Clause. By combining the parcels, the government avoided paying compensation for precluding the separate sale or development of vacant Lot E simply because the Murrs had economic use of the adjacent Lot F which is developed with a small recreation cabin. In dissent, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “This is just another opportunity to gerrymander the definition of, ‘private property’ to defeat a taking claim…The majority’s new framework compromises the Takings Clause as a barrier between individuals and the public interest.” PLF is now supporting legislative change proposed in Wisconsin that will provide relief to the Murr family. Although a setback, this recent decision underscores the need for continuing in the battle to secure private property rights.